Thursday, February 26, 2015

Before Foster Care

There's not a delicate entry sentence for this topic. 

Foster Care.

When you say it out loud, it can bring the room, the conversation to a lull.  It's uncomfortable and it's messy.  Honestly for me it's been the place I'd rather leave my head in the sand than acknowledge the need exists.  No, beyond just need, I'd now characterize it more like a desperate crisis.  Because before foster care I never entertained the notion, the idea that I could bring in someone else's baby in to take care of them only to one day give them back.
How would we as a family even begin to step into realms and realities where the innocent learn to suffer before they learn to speak and crawl?
How do you wage war on a world so deep in violence and desperation that your seemingly minimal contribution could even make the smallest of a difference?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

This is our story so far.  It's different than the next story or anyone else's lens in this process.  It's unpolished with plenty of mistakes, misconceptions, and immaturity.  I'm sure in seasons to come my reflections will change and adapt.  But I don't want to discount this season of learning, the challenge, the newness.  Just a few short months ago I had a small grid for this dark reality.  Years ago I had called DHS on students back when I was a teacher for obvious neglect.  I've felt that pit in my stomach when you see the mama struggling in the checkout line with her child and you know she crosses lines that aren't meant to be crossed.  I've heard the statistics of the thousands of children who wait in foster care, how our state is among the highest in child abuse and neglect.  I've been honest with myself in the most secret places, I'm not cut out for this.  I could never and would never do foster care. 

...because I just couldn't ever give them back.

I said it, I've thought it, and I've heard it a hundred times in the past few months.  In fact I'd say I hear it daily.  Foster care felt and still feels overwhelming.  So many aspects that pull on my heart strings, my energy, my calendar.  Feelings of hopelessness in my mind, opinions of others, and the reality of the enemy's game staring me down in the face.  There's no half way here, it's all or nothing.

Does taking this child in really make a difference?
Is this going to mess with our life?
Is this new reality going to push us to the point of quitting?


The answer is yes.  Yes to all the above and more.  The cost is high, there's just no way around it.  We knew this coming but have since walked in more understanding whether we were ready or not.  I've never been more uncomfortable, challenged, and desperate.

Our story.

A few months ago late in the evening, the phone rang.  "Meg, we've got a newborn boy.  That's all we know.  Do you want him?"  All the stacks of paper work, the home studies, the background checks, the hours of training and classes.  And now here we were.  I asked the questions I knew there weren't answers to...his name, race, health, location.  No answers on the other end of the phone.

"Yes, we want him."

That was the day we jumped, we jumped off a cliff and gave Him our scared, unknowing, unscheduled yes.  Days later NICU nurses walked us into a small room full of babies and there he was.  Tiniest baby I've ever held, tubes coming out from all over his body.  Nurses waiting to read off his chart.  His story had a begun.  Our story had begun.

Nothing prepares you for the moment you sit in that rocking chair and they place this precious, innocent life in your arms.  In your care, in your heart, in your home. 
Nothing prepares you for the way he would tremble and shake because brokenness has a hold of his mama too and she made choices that would lead us to this very moment.  When it's written in a medical chart of an infant, your brain can't comprehend and no explanation is suffice of how innocence is shattered and this tiny life is left to clean up a mess he never asked for.
But you see, neither did his mama.

A hundred times in our short time in this process I've begun to understand why the Cross was so violent, so blanketed with darkness.  Because He took the sin of man and bore it on His brow, on His blood soaked shoulders, driven into His hands and feet.  And yet the same Jesus calls us out of the boat to wade into the waters of the darkest battle we've ever stepped into.
The truth is I'm not made for this.  No one is.  I'm too weak, it's too hopeless, and it's beyond impossibly hard.

Good thing it's not about me.

Foster parents aren't super parents, they're not perfect parents with hearts of steel that don't feel the pain of this fight.  They sit in parking lots of DHS and weep, they cry over hospital reports and parent visits.  All of life, calendars are shuffled for therapies, court dates, endless meetings and doctor's appointments.
Unending engagement with people once overlooked in parking lots and street corners, now the weekly investment in relationship and sacrificial love.  And the mess of it all creates the perfect opportunity for rescue, for exposure of my own weakness and ugliness.  When we come to the end of our flesh and we run out, there in that place is where He waits.  In our weakness and desperation His strength is the only thing that sustains.

Before foster care I never knew or saw the tension and where the lines blur between what's happened to these precious children and babies, some even before they are born, and those responsible for the devastation that's happened.  What does justice look like, grace, margin for error, second there such a thing?  Because those mamas and daddies, the boyfriends, the ones who come in and violate innocence, who raise hands and fists, who in full operation of fear and abuse choose the very things that shred preciousness into brokenness, because it's the only thing they have ever known.  And years ago they too hid in closets to avoid being under hands of violence, dug through trash cans for food, and looked after siblings while the ones meant to protect them and teach them wouldn't, couldn't, and chose not to.

And we're only scratching the surface.

Where's the line between calling someone to ownership for their behavior and at the same time seeing through the mess into a life so broken they don't even know the pieces that need to be put back together?  That's the place I swirl in today.  I want answers.  I want solutions.  I want His return because I can't handle the mess I've stepped into.
I need Jesus.  They need Jesus.  The system needs Jesus.  We were made to know Him and follow Him.  We were made to pick up and carry the torch for causes, we were made to seek and fight for justice on behalf of a Kingdom at hand.  We were made to be loved by a Father who loves us when we're unlovable to the point of grief because our sin hurts His heart so deeply.  We were created for rescue and redemption.

Today an older woman praised me, how wonderful it is to foster and how amazing I must be.  I smiled and thought to myself how it couldn't be further from the truth.  Tonight as I sit, I'm exhausted.  I've cried every day this week.  I've fought and demanded excellence for this baby because he's worth it.  I've crossed lines and I've made plenty of mistakes already.  I've stumbled into my living room early in the morning desperate for my cup to be filled because it ran out yesterday way before the demands of the day were finished.  It's not noble or great, I think any foster parent can attest to that.  It's the hardest thing we've ever done.  I've come to the end of myself and today it's for His glory.

Everything is for His glory.

So tonight we will take kids to dance and practices.  Homework will get finished and hearts will get reconnected over dinner.  We'll make lunches, hear about each other's days, and give baths.  And after all those babies are tucked in tight, foreheads kissed, prayers said, we'll sit grateful and tired.  Today was hard, today we fought and lost, today we fought and won.  Today I didn't see in the physical realms the steps vital for this baby to have a safe home to return to.  If I wait for that I lose hope, my hope is in the One who bestows the impossible.  I'm believing for the impossible, I'm believing for the things I cant even begin to imagine.  And then He will do what He always does, the most faint whispers to be still and trust.  To lay it down and rest, to lay down the yolk of this world and take upon His and not forget the Rock He's been faithful to set us on.
And tomorrow we will rise and begin again because the Lord's grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in my weakness.
"to all who mourn in Zion, He will give them a crown of beauty for ashes,
oil of gladness instead of mourning,
garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
they will be called the oaks of righteousness,
planted of the Lord for His glory."
Isaiah 61:3

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Relishing of the Simple

When all else fails, the need presents itself for the celebration and relishing of the simple, little things.  Thus, a happy and somewhat mindless post of happenings around here over the last month or so.  We've covered some ground and we've gone backwards a few steps more than desired.  We've seen breakthrough in areas longed for just as new refining opportunities make their way to the surface.  Nonetheless, we've been a family.  A family enjoying all things big and small in this sweet season.  Saying goodbye to bundling for soccer games and dark morning sendoffs to school and hello to spring.  This weekend the glimpse of spring and summer to come, makes me want to buy Peeps and paint my toes a different color every day.
Good News
Last May when my Bella had her 9 month check up, we quickly realized something was wrong and our pediatrician expressed concern because she wasn't meeting any developmental milestones.  After almost a year of many doctor's appointments and blood work, we've been grateful for an amazing team of therapists, our neurologist, and friends in the medical field helping to process solutions and a possible diagnosis.  Last month an MRI scan showed that one side of her brain was measuring larger than the other side.  Our neurologist explained that at some point during pregnancy when Bella's brain was forming, an area of brain tissue never developed leaving a space in which fluid ended up filling.  Not too much and not too little, the perfect amount of fluid.  She went on to explain no surgeries or scans will be necessary as the hole and fluid will not change shape and over the next 5-6 years with help from her therapists, she will bridge the gap and her brain will eventually function normally without delays.  
We're beyond grateful for this good news, for His protection over our girl, and the powerful words of life spoken over her that in time she will be fine.  

News like this does a mama's heart good. 

A friend sent me a blog post the other day, the general idea being that someone is always hollering for their mama, always needing something, always draining her of patience, rest, brain cells.  You name it, those little suckers take until you're not sure if you have much left.  But the sweet conclusion to the post was how in the midst of the hard, it's a blessing and gift to be someone's mama.  To be needed and be able to meet their needs, how they'll be gone one day and won't need her anymore.  And while I think it's next to impossible to approach every challenge of motherhood with a smile and have "I'm so thrilled you dumped purple nail polish all over the back of the car and played in it" stamped on my forehead, I do believe in the value of choice.  I choose to be thankful and I choose to fix my eyes on the eternal realms of inheritance promised.

Thus, errands.  We end up at the grocery story 3-4 times a week, it's a mystery to me how this happens but it does.  This week I was grateful, for her company and little menu suggestions, the unorganized cart and loading of sacks in the rain.  

Some day errands will look different.  Really different.
Sick Babies
This week I had a few sick kiddos and so I just threw them all in the car and hauled them into the pediatrician's office together.  This time, my Emma and Bella.  My day was shot and after stripping down that baby for a bath and hosing down her car seat from vomit, I laid their sweet bodies to bed, myself not any less tired or spread thin, but thankful to have the means to care for them and love them well.
The Return of the Cookies
So for the past 6 months we have further taken the steps towards healthier eating, including following a Clean Eating  diet (no sugar, white flour, dairy...) and for the most part we feel better, enjoy our meals and see a difference in how we think about food in general.  And we'll stick with it but good grief, girl has got to have some cookies, real cookies.
Without a doubt one of my favorite blogs is my friend's mom, she invites high school girls over and teaches them how to cook, then shares the word with them.  This is her chocolate chocolate chip cookie recipe and I cut out half of the butter and add peanut butter instead, then as those little goobers come out of the oven I top them with whatever candy I have on hand.
And then when I'm feeling extra naughty, I stick with her chocolate chip cookies, roll the dough in sugar and then make sandwiches with chocolate peanut butter frosting.

Because why wouldn't you?

I love the return of the cookies.

Being Home
 The natural life rhythm of 4 kids means lots of carpools, play dates, practices, school functions and blah, blah, blah.  I swore I'd never sound like that mom and then I read that last sentence and want to barf.
Anyways, although we love to go and do and all tend to be extroverted, I find that lately I want to be home more and so do my kids.  Not that there's anything profoundly entertaining about our house, there's not.  But there is something wonderful and simple about being home and for this season of life, choosing to be at home.

I am loving it.  I love watching them and listening to them imagine and play, moving from one mess to another.

The Sendoff
My kids bicker a lot, I mean a lot.  It's about a 70-30% ratio of besties and then a fierce execution to pester the ever living daylights out of each other.  Sometimes I think I'm going to lose my mind and drop kick them all into the next county.  
But the sweet thing is when someone leaves, they rally around and watch the other one prepare to go.  What she wears, what she packs in her bag, where is she going and with whom? They flock to each other and huddle around until the last possible minute she's gone.

Maybe it's the close proximity of sharing rooms and hand-me-downs, or because they're all close in age and the same gender?  Not sure but I know it's really sweet and I love it.
Leaving the Nest
I read a book last year called Close Kids, it's a short read about a study of adult siblings who have close relationships with each other still currently and what their parents did to foster the closeness when they were little.  One of the values was all of the siblings going to each others functions and commitments.  Sometimes it's doable and other times it's not.  But lately we've given it a shot and it's been a lot of work but really sweet for them to step into each other's worlds at school, the park, practices.

And sometimes I get carried away and want to be 5 again.

All in all, we are thankful for the gift of family.  And even though the days are long and some tasks are mundane and so repetitive at times I wonder if I'm even making a difference, deep down I'm reminded of truth in what it means to be a family and journey with Him together.  

Does she understand that I said no to protect her because I know what's best?  
Not now she doesn't.
Will my house ever be clean and presentable?
No, it will be unkept and dirty, even if cleaning products are actually used.
Will I always fight the spirit of comparison and wonder if I measure up?
Today you can choose.  What's it gonna be?

For this time, the art of choosing to relish in the simple because by some standards it will always lack in measurements of success, recognition, and climbing corporate ladders of any sense.

For today it will be simple.
I will look him in the eyes as he leaves and connect my heart to his.
I will touch her more when she's near.  Just because.
I will choose her over productivity.
I will choose His peace over the forever chased illusion of peace from productivity.
We will bake more and make more messes.
We will remind ourselves that hurrying hurts them.

And tonight, I will again move beyond the simple and into realms in gratitude that run so deep for this baby.  I'll stroke her perfect face as she sleeps and feel her chest rise and fall.
I'll tell Him over and over again, thank you.

Happy week to all.
Love, Meg

Monday, February 17, 2014

Stream of Consciousness

Valentines day.  The jury is still out on this topic for me.  It's a fun holiday and I know there's history behind it, the chance to show love to others and be loved in return, and it's a great excuse for date night.  I love the school parties, the heart shaped everything...but really what it is seems more like is a repeat of Halloween minus the costumes.  The kids come home with sacks of candy and little toys that I trip over.  Not to mention the dozens of sucker sticks immersed in the floor boards of my car.
Happy valentines day.

And then there's the olympics.  I love the olympics, be it winter or summer, no matter the event I just love the whole thing.  For some reason this year I'm extra sappy and emotional, the commercials that show the journey to this moment of greatness in pursuit of gold with the world watching.  The success and face of victory in achievement, the best of the best in the whole world.  And when they don't make the cut, they fall short and watch others take podiums and every so graciously participate in media interviews only to say today wasn't the day.
I cry like a baby.  What's wrong with me?  I have no idea.

In fact I'd say overall the older I get the more of a sap I've become.  I can't handle the usual Ridley Scott films, no longer is Braveheart my all time favorite movie, and when I catch these babies actually being kind to each other when they think I'm not looking, I tear up.
So last week was the whirlwind of such sugar high festivities and events, including a date with my man.  My mama came for a visit and no matter how old I get, my heart still needs and hopes for little things I'm capable of but would much rather receive from her.

No one makes a bed like her, a sandwich like she does.  You can smell her perfume once she's gone, she little traces of her that were there from organized cabinets to neatly folded laundry.
She's a gem.  All the more reason why last week was wonderful and the weekend followed suit.

Sugar Cookies is our new favorite book.  A sweet read about lessons in love and relationship.  We read it every day.

I saw a movie this fall and we watched it again this weekend and I was reminded how much I loved it.
At the end, the main character has met his true love, married her, buried a parent, had a few kids all the while living a life where he can travel back in time.  So if he messes up throughout his day, he runs to the closet to shut his eyes and travel back in time to repeat the same encounter yet with a better or different response.  No mess ups but still with authenticity and honesty.  Near the end of the film, he rolls out of bed for yet again the routines and rhythms of life and he says...

"And in the end I think I've learned the final lesson from my travels in time;
and I've even gone one step further than my father did:
The truth is I now don't travel back at all, not even for the day,
I just try to live every day as if I've deliberately come back to this one day,
to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life."

I love this.  I love the way it makes me feel, how it sounds, how the character in the movie walks it out while making toast and taking kids to school.  And yes I know it's a movie and only in the movies is this utopian perfect atmosphere possible.  But I love the piece of intentional living, being present, being conscious of not letting things drain you and cause you to be distant and rush.  

So onward, to this weekend of lovelies.  I have to practice this thing I want in my heart and deep down want to value and quiet the parts of me that place it further down on the list of priority.

This weekend, enjoying...
Toys at the breakfast table
My girls always have toys at the table, they pull them out of nowhere and sometimes it irritates me but this weekend it didn't and tomorrow I hope it doesn't.  And speaking of the breakfast table, it doubles as my girls' project table and it usually covered in glue and markers.

Some day it won't look like this and I'll be sad.

Outside play
We played outside all weekend long.  A few errands but mostly choosing to be home around the nest for whatever sport they wanted to play.

                              With the lovely Alicia Brown

We ate meals outside, read books outside, went for walks.

Sunday lunch
We met some friends after church for lunch on campus, more outside, more time together.
More of this sweet darling who was a little fussy from some new teeth but nevertheless a cuddle bug of joy and sweetness.
I sat next to my girl, my oldest lovely.  She's so big, she's getting so much older.  She amazes me every day with dreams and thoughts and ideas.  The other night we got her up like we did when she was a baby, just to hold and cuddle her.  She's so big she wraps all the way around me and I can hardly carry her back up the stairs to her bed.
Beautiful Kelly

                         With Josh

I loved this weekend for so many reasons and no reason at all.  I love the idea of intentional living and creating space for nothingness and just being present.  Sometimes it's hard for me but at the end of the day I want them to look back and know, believe that I always chose them over checklists.  That I was fully okay with a messy room and hours of Uno and Candy Land and that bed times were better unrushed.
I'll start there for now and work my way up the list. live every day as if I've deliberately come back to this one day...
to enjoy it.

Happy Monday!